Tuesday 12 December 2017

Review: The Calmus Ensemble

Dublin Castle

Pat O'Kelly

THE Leipzig-based Calmus Ensemble began a nine-venue Music Network tour with a programme of unusual variety at Dublin Castle.

The unaccompanied five voice -- soprano, countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass -- group mixes the sacred with the profane and a lot more besides.

Introduced in impeccable English by members of the ensemble, the evening begins with Bach including the fugal finale to his motet 'Singet den Herrn ein Neues Lied'. Calmus delivers its complex interweaving polyphony with remarkable ease.

Contemporary Bavarian composer Wolfram Buchenberg's evokes instrumental colour in his setting of 'Psalm 104'. Intricate rhythmic variations, as well as vivid contrasts of light and shade, show Calmus's exceptional technique.

Delightful Purcell and the light-hearted Thomas Morley madrigal 'Now is the Month of Maying' tastefully represent early England.

However, the romantic heart of the programme rests with three beautifully balanced and sensitively expressive Brahms lieder while the ensemble's versatility sparkles in repeated percussive imitations in Poulenc's 'Clic, Clak, Danzes Sabots'.

This paves the way for 16th Century Catalan Mateo de Flecha el Viejo's extended dramatic scena 'La bomba'. With its shipwrecked crew running through a gamut of emotional experiences, this ends hilariously as vocal pyrotechnics mimic twanging guitars.

Following the drunken frolics of one of Schein's baroque student ballads, Ireland is honoured in Charles Villiers Stanford's haunting 'Bluebird' and three superb folk song arrangements. A serene 'Sally Gardens' precedes a riotous 'Finnegans Wake' and raucous 'Whiskey in the Jar'.

Having exceptional musicianship and unusual vocal virtuosity, unwavering intonation provides the icing on the Calmus cake.

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